Saudi blogger Raif Badawi is expected to be publicly flogged again after morning prayers on Friday, following the upholding of his sentence of 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes by the Saudi Arabian Supreme Court earlier this week.
The Supreme Court ruling is final, meaning only a royal pardon can overturn it. Badawi, accused of insulting Islam, was lashed 50 times outside a mosque in Jeddah in January. Subsequent weekly floggings were postponed, originally due to medical issues resulting from the first lashing and then as the Supreme Court reviewed the case.
Dr. Elham Manea, a spokesperson for Badawi's family, told VICE News they were shocked the court had upheld the verdict, with wife Ensaf Haidar "devastated," while his three young children were inconsolable. "They have cried for their father for three years, and suddenly they realised he's going to be away for 10 years and — on top of that — he will be flogged every week," she said.
Haidar and her children — who live in Canada after being granted asylum — were currently "very nervous" that this Friday's flogging would go ahead, she added, though "we are hoping that the kingdom will really listen to the international campaign."
"Please stop this cruel type of punishment," she continued. "Please let Raif Badawi go to his wife. He did not commit a crime. He only expressed an opinion."
Rights groups and the UK and US governments have spoken out against Badawi's treatment — which has attracted huge international attention — and Manea said she could not believe Saudi Arabia was proceeding with this punishment regardless.
"Why would they do that? They see the whole world is very much at pain with what is happening now," she said. "I do hope that they realize that doing that would only harm the reputation of Saudi Arabia more than it's already harmed. Even within Saudi Arabia one realizes there's a certain kind of dissatisfaction with the way this [case] has been handled."
An activist lauded for his promotion of free speech, 31-year-old Badawi has been imprisoned since 2012 for creating the "Liberal Saudi Network," a now removed internet forum envisaged as a place where Saudi citizens could freely debate issues around religion. He was initially sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes, a punishment that was increased to ten years and 1,000 lashes by a criminal court after an appeal last year.
Badawi, who has high blood pressure, was in contact with his family, Manea said, adding: "Ensaf is a wonderful woman and a strong woman and her strength — I hope — will help the kids. The international solidarity will also help the kids to understand that their father is being unjustly treated."
However, Badawi's health problems remain a huge concern. "We don't think that he can handle another round of this punishment," Manea said.
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